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Ex-Lewis trail coordinator opts for bench trial in criminal case

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County’s former recreational trail coordinator is putting his legal fate in the hands of an Oswego County judge.

Robert C. Diehl, 43, Gardner Road, Martinsburg, during a court appearance Friday waived his right to a jury trial, setting up a bench trial before acting County Judge Donald E. Todd on charges of third-degree attempted grand larceny, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and official misconduct.

The trial is set to commence Sept. 30.

Mr. Diehl was accused of submitting a purchase order and voucher for payment Oct. 25 for stone products from V.S. Virkler & Son, Lowville, that included $3,262.97 worth of gravel that was delivered to his residence for his personal use.

He and attorney Michael F. Young both declined comment after the hearing.

Attorney Gary W. Miles also is representing Mr. Diehl but did not appear in court Friday, while Assistant District Attorney Caleb J. Petzoldt is handling prosecution of the case.

Both Mr. Young and Mr. Petzoldt indicated that their portions of the trial likely would take no more than a day and a half to complete.

Judge Todd, who is handling the case since County Judge Daniel R. King recused himself, said that he typically instructs jurors not to take notes during trials because it may distract them from concentrating on witnesses and gauging their credibility.

“It’s my intention not to take any notes or to take darn few of them,” he said.

Going along with that, the judge said he plans to find a seat in the jury box, rather than sitting behind the bench, so he can get a more direct view of the witnesses.

“I’ll certainly be close enough that I can rule on any objections,” he said.

Judge Todd also told Mr. Diehl that the trial may proceed without him but suggested that he be in attendance.

“Please be here,” he said. “Your attorney needs you.”

Mr. Diehl initially was charged with third-degree grand larceny, but Judge Todd in July ruled that the charge should be changed to attempted grand larceny because he personally paid off the bill, before the county’s check was cashed, after a Virkler employee noticed the issue.

The former trail coordinator was suspended without pay last November. Because he was a civil service employee, his pay was reinstated after 30 days, but he remained off the job.

At a Dec. 26 administrative hearing presided over by retired state Supreme Court Justice John S. Parker, Mr. Diehl admitted receiving the gravel at his residence; however, he testified the purchase order he submitted for payment was made in error.

Judge Parker found Mr. Diehl not guilty of gross negligence but guilty of incompetence, and recommended the county reprimand him and suspend him without pay for 60 days. Legislators ultimately decided to fire him instead.

Lawmakers in May hired Jacqueline L. Mahoney as the new trail coordinator, and Mr. Diehl later that month filed a civil suit against the county seeking his job back, along with back pay and legal fees.

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